Exmouth market 'an asset to the area' says town manager

THE INDOOR market in Exmouth is an asset to the area that should be treasured. This was how Tony Collins, the town centre manager, described the importance of the award-winning trading hub, established in July 1980 - in a week when the centre s future w

THE INDOOR market in Exmouth is 'an asset to the area that should be treasured.'

This was how Tony Collins, the town centre manager, described the importance of the award-winning trading hub, established in July 1980 - in a week when the centre's future was cast into doubt.

Factors including news Sidmouth's indoor shopping complex will close this month, a centre made victim to the recession, and the Valuation Office Agency's plans, have fuelled questions over the future of Exmouth market.

The Valuation Office Agency, a body responsible for business rates, are considering the option of imposing business rates on each stallholder in markets across the country.

They are proposals which the centre's manager, Jerry Miller, claim could have a grim financial effect.

Mr Collins said: "The role it plays in providing a diverse and colourful offering is huge, and it does so within a clean and high quality environment.

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"Exmouth Indoor market sits at the heart of our retail community. It is a fine example of why we should support our town centre and ensure its future success."

Speaking about the Valuation Office Agency's plans for markets, Mr Collins said: "Jerry Miller first highlighted his concerns about the current review by the VOA of the rating system for indoor markets some 18 months ago.

"With concern for any negative impact this may create for our market, I immediately raised this issue with senior Councillors and our MP Hugo Swire.

"Whilst the VOA process has had to run its course, we have the full support of our local politicians to help in any way they can to make sure that our market is not damaged by proposed changes.

"Supporting and maintaining the market, with all of the benefits it brings to Exmouth is very important and as such I maintain regular discussions with Jerry so that help can be provided if needed."

Like it has for the past 30 years, the market houses an array of quality stalls, stocking items which range from DVDs, games, kitchen and bedware, through to DIY goods and pet products.

It can be argued people are more inclined to visit such a market during recessionary times to snap up a bargain or two.

But, Jerry Miller, the market's manager, said regrettably, business had not been great this year. "The numbers (of people) in the town now are just not what they used to be," he added.

"If you can't get people into the town centre, it doesn't matter how strong your business is, you will suffer. You need Exmouth as a whole to be trading far better than it is at the moment.

"Exmouth has had too many big losses: Woolworths, Currys and Body Shop. We can't survive here just on the small independent retail units alone.

"We need some of the multi-nationals as well to give the correct blend and balance to the town centre.

"At the moment this isn't there and as such we will continue to suffer until the town's retail sector is improved.

"A lot of people don't want to be too honest because it could reflect on their business doing badly. But I will say, quite honestly, what the situation is and where we are."

Exmouth Market's traders, like most businesspeople, will no doubt be wondering how much longer the economic downturn will last, with some having had to cut prices to compete with high street stores and retail parks.

Some, also, will have raised concerned eyebrows upon hearing news of the imminent closure of Sidmouth Market, hoping a comparable scenario is never mirrored in Exmouth.

Despite its popularity among shoppers, the Sidmouth indoor centre will shut at the end of next month with its leaseholder, Ian Crabtree, stating it was no longer 'a viable business.'

Closing due to financial reasons fuelled by the recession, stallholders have been given notice to cease trading.

In a letter to traders sent by Mr Crabtree, he said the centre, additionally, had been faced with a change in shopping habits in the last 15 years.

He said: "The centre has been faced with the gradual erosion of margins as UK shopping habits have changed.

"And, as a consequence licensees have refused or been unable to pay higher licence fees whilst the running costs and expenses of the centre have gradually increased."

To imagine Exmouth without the indoor market, is not a pleasing thought. It is, after all, as Tony Collins said, an 'asset to the area that should be treasured.'

At its conception, the indoor market opened as a family-run business as part of an ongoing plan of investment in the town.

It prides itself on playing a key role, not just in the commercial activity of Exmouth, but in the wider community as a whole.

The market endeavours to offer the highest standard of attention to comfort and cleanliness.

This ethic was recognised last June when it beat off competition from more than 200 retailers to scoop The Exmouth Tidy Group's first ever award for the best kept business in the town.